Sunday, April 25, 2010

Time for some decent service

The BBC web site has an article entitled Giant deep sea jellyfish filmed in Gulf of Mexico which has footage of Stygiomedusa gigantea, and mentions an associated fish, Thalassobathia pelagica.


One thing that frustrates me beyond belief is how hard it is to get more information about these organisms. Put another way, the biodiversity informatics community is missing a huge opportunity here. There are a slew of services, such as Zemanta and, that can enrich the content of a document by identifying terms and adding links. Imagine a similar service that took taxonomic names and could provide information and links about that name, so that sites such as the BBC could enrich their pages. We've had various attempts at this1, but we are still far from creating something genuinely useful.

Part of the problem is that the plethora of taxonomic databases we have are often of little use. After fussing with Google I discover that Stygiomedusa gigantea (Browne, 1910) has the synonym Stygiomedusa fabulosa Russell, 1959 (see, e.g., the WoRMS database), but no database tells me that the genus Stygiomedusa was published by Russell in Nature in 1959 (doi:10.1038/1841527a0). Nor can I readily find the original reference for (Browne, 1910) in these databases2. Why is this so hard?

9B0FFA09-AF7B-4F82-98F5-C5D7DF891C5F.jpgThen when we do have information, we fail to make it digestible. For example, the EOL page for Thalassobathia pelagica links to BHL pages, but fails to point out that the pages it links belong to a single article, and that this article ( is the original description of the fish.

Publishers are increasingly interested in any tools that can embellish their content. The organisation that gets their act together and provides a decent service for publishers (including academic journals, and news services such as the BBC) is going to own this space. Any takers...?

  1. Such as uBio LinkIT and EOL NameLink.
  2. After finding another taxon with the author Browne 1910 in BHL, I found Diplulmaris (?) gigantea, which looked like a good candidate for the original name for the jellyfish, see This is confirmed by the Smithsonian's Antarctic Invertebrates site.